TARRYTOWN – Before the season started, Hackley made a resolution: to get past the NYSAIS tournament semifinals.
After failing to get past that point the past three seasons, the Hornets finally did it on Friday, defeating the tournament’s defending title holders, Rye Country Day, by a 3-1 score to punch their ticket into the final.
“It’s absolutely incredible because we’ve never made it to the finals,” Hackley’s Kat Cucullo said. “We played really hard for each other; we went in knowing that we wanted it. We knew we could beat this team.”
Senior forward Sammy Mueller, who scored both of Hackley’s goals in its quarterfinal win over Columbia Prep on Wednesday, was the hero again, scoring a hat trick to lead the way.
“My teammates give me the opportunity to set it up; they set it very easy for me,” she said. “I work every day on finishing, but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates.”
Rye Country Day, which came in having played back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday and had four starters out injured, struggled to establish possession in the first half, but managed to cut the lead down to 2-1 in the 52nd minute, when Martina Capellano buried a penalty kick.
“Our games, we play on turf, we don’t normally play on grass, and sometimes it takes awhile to adjust,” Rye Country Day head coach Alin Andrei said. “They were more physical, they won more 50-50 balls, and they deserve to be in the final.”
Hackley will play Dalton in the championship game at Manhattanville College Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
“We’ve talked about the semifinals being a hurdle for the past three years, and it feels great to finally overcome it,” Mueller said. “We’ll just try to prepare the younger kids for an opportunity like this.”
Player of the game: Sammy Mueller, Hackley. Committed to Virginia for lacrosse, the senior proved she is also a proficient scorer on the soccer pitch. She used her athleticism and skill to get all three of the Hornets’ goals.
“She’s incredible,” Cucullo said. “Yes, she has all of our goals, but she’s such a team player. She looks for other players and knows how to play as a teammate.”
Turning point: In the 69th minute, Mueller had the ball on the left side near the Rye Country Day box. Being guarded well by the Wildcats defender, she attempted a high chip shot over her head. The ball sailed over the reach of goalkeeper CeCe Payne and went in to make the score 3-1.
“I didn’t see the ball until it crossed the goal line,” Mueller said. “The defender did a great job cutting off my angle and I thought that my only opportunity was to set it near the box, and it just happened to go in.”
Stat line: For Hackley, Mueller had three goals, Cucullo had two assists, Francesca Docters had an assist and LiliAnna Khosrowshahi made five saves. For Rye Country Day, Capellano had a goal and Payne made three saves.
Quotable: “We’ve reached the final now; all the other years, it was about getting to the final,” Cucullo said. “Now we just want to win, and we can win. We’ve played well, we picked it up at the end of our league, and we can do it. People might get nervous, but we’re going to do our best to calm everyone down and play as a team.”